Waste crime – ensuring crime does not pay

  • Market Insight 23 February 2024 23 February 2024
  • UK & Europe

  • Casualty claims

A new Economic Crime Unit has been launched by the Environment Agency in an effort to tackle money laundering and carry out financial investigations in the waste sector.

The unit

The unit, described by the Environment Minister as a “powerful tool in our fight against waste criminals” will consist of an Asset Denial Team and a Money Laundering Investigations Team. The Asset Denial Team will focus on account freezing orders, cash seizures, pre-charge restraints and confiscations. Where it is suspected a bank account is being used for illegally made funds, the team will be able to freeze the money in it. The onus will then be on the account holder to prove the money is legitimate. If they are unable to do so the money will be forfeited. The Money Laundering Team will enable the Environment Agency to conduct dedicated money laundering investigations targeting environmental offences. A conviction for money laundering offences can result in 14 years in prison. 

The Environment Agency Financial Investigations Team has already had significant success in seizing money and assets. The idea behind the new Economic Crime Unit is that it will build on this work.

The Chair of the Environment Agency has said: “Waste crime is a blight on communities and our environment. By undermining legitimate business investment, it costs our economy an estimated £1 billion every year – money being taken away from other essential services to deal with the damage caused by waste criminals.

“The Environment Agency is committed to taking tough action and the launch of our dedicated Economic Crime Unit shows we will not tolerate organised criminals moving into the waste sector and using it to facilitate other crimes.”

Other action

The Environment Agency states that it continues to go further in its efforts to stop waste crime. It has a strong working relationship with the police which includes, since April 2022, having access to the Police National Computer, Police National Database and National Automatic Number Plate Recognition Service. This relationship has led to waste criminals being shut down faster.

Government policy has boosted powers that regulators have to take on waste criminals. This includes commitments to reforming the carriers, brokers, dealers system. The government also intends to introduce mandatory waste tracking in April 2025 to improve regulation and enforcement of operators in the waste industry. Our article discussing the consultation outcome on the ‘Implementation of mandatory digital waste tracking’ can be found here.

Intelligence-led approach

In order to combat waste crime innovative new ways of working with government and industry partners has been initiated. This includes HMRC sharing customs export data to help identify illegal waste exports. The data helps to give a much better picture of what is being exported where and by who to increase the intelligence picture and help identify and target criminality. It also ensures that the Environment Agency has information to help it focus on the worst criminals and the biggest environmental harms and threats across the country. The agreement with HMRC will also enable the Environment Agency to deploy resources efficiently; increased understanding of export routes and patterns will ensure field officers can be sent out to intercept illegal shipments before they leave the country. 


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